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Adam Green is huge in Germany. A member of his backing band recalls fans lunging over velvet ropes to paw at the affable Westchester native. He has graced the cover of the German Rolling Stone. And 2003's Friends of Mine, his first album after the breakup of the Moldy Peaches, an irreverent anti-folk collaboration with Kimya Dawson, debuted at #2 on the German charts. As Green says, he's "just a part of the culture" there.
Now, with the chart-ascending success of Juno and its Moldy Peaches–centric soundtrack (fixed more on Kimya, but still), his profile has risen in America as well. Green—who has rhymed "brunch" and "cunt"—even appeared with Dawson on The View. But his titanic Teutonic popularity is stranger. What could account for such stratospheric fame in a country where his music's undeniably defining feature—its comedic, playful, delightfully crass lyrics—doesn't translate?
Green cites, of all things, his family history. In New York City, he's "the weird guy with the guitar on Avenue A." But overseas, he's an American who traces both his familial and artistic lineage back to Germany. Journalists there often note that his great-grandmother was engaged to Franz Kafka (who was born in Prague but wrote in German); his family fled the Nazis in the late '30s and wound up in New York. As for his artistry, Green's hilarious and beguiling new album, Sixes & Sevens, evokes two of Germany's most popular exports: cabaret singing and depravity. Green suggests that the German press loves that "they can compare me to Kurt Weill without thinking twice"; the Weimar menace and macabre comedy of songs like "Bed of Prayer" and "Sticky Ricki" do bring to mind an even zanier Threepenny Opera (perhaps by way of Lou Reed's Berlin). On "Morning After Midnight" and "Twee Dee Dee," Green inhabits a kind of crooning, dissipated Las Vegas casino-singer persona with due degeneracy, charm, and even a sort of Fat Elvis pathos.
As one might expect from the almost-great-grandson of Kafka, the success of the Juno soundtrack worries Green. He wrote those Moldy Peaches songs at the very beginning of what has been a prolific and varied career; he enjoys the newfound popularity but doesn't want the songs from "that movie with the adorable pregnant girl" to define him. Sixes & Sevens should help his reputation evolve. The record is simultaneously stranger and more coherent than any of his previous albums, and the pan-flute playing on "You Get So Lucky" is one of the funniest moments in music this year. Green agrees: "Maybe one day I'll make a record of all pan-flute." Germany holds its breath.
Adam Green plays Town Hall May 10, the-townhall-nyc.com.